Research & reports

Title: Seat belts: the forgotten road safety priority

Organisation: Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
Date uploaded: 14th May 2019
Date published/launched: April 2019

Free
The first legal requirement to wear a seat belt in the front seats of vehicles came into effect in the UK in 1983. By 1991, seat belt wearing was a legal requirement in all seating positions and wearing rates were higher than 90%.

Amongst the road safety community there was a feeling this constituted a job
well done. However, since 2013, data has been published on the percentage of people who were not wearing a seat belt when they died in cars on UK roads. In 2017, 27% of those who died in cars were not wearing a seat belt (in cases where seat belt status was known).

This report by PACTS shows who these people are, their reasons for not wearing seat belts, and the effectiveness of potential interventions at increasing seat belt wearing and reducing road deaths.

Seat belt non-wearing is not a behaviour unique to one socio-demographic group or one situation. A small minority continue to not wear their seat belts, across all road conditions. However, seat belt non-wearing is more prevalent amongst some socio-demographic groups and in certain conditions.

Stats19 data shows that seat belt non-wearing is more prevalent amongst men and young people, namely those aged 16-35. Seat belt non-wearing is also more common amongst those who live in the UKs most deprived areas, those that travel in the passenger seats, and those that drive older cars.

While seat belt non-wearing is comparatively more common in deaths and serious injuries which occur on minor roads and those with a 30mph speed limit, more people die while not wearing a seat belt on A roads and those with a 60mph speed limit. Non-wearing is also associated with drink and drug driving, aggressive driving and driving at night.

There is evidence that there are a multitude of - often interrelated - influences on seat belt nonwearing including: a lack of a seat belt habit; feeling safe without a seat belt; believing that seat belts are dangerous; discomfort when wearing a seat belt; peer pressure; sensation seeking; libertarian instincts and a perceived lack of enforcement.

To increase seat belt wearing, PACTS recommends that not wearing a seat belt be made an endorsable offence with a penalty of 3 penalty points, in addition to the current 100 fine. This would offer a more effective disincentive for seat belt non-wearing and there is strong evidence of the effectiveness of making not wearing a seat belt an endorsable offence. PACTS also recommends significantly enhancing enforcement of the seat belt law through targeted, intelligence-led measures including new camera technology. Efforts should also be made to increase the public perception of enforcement as the evidence shows that this has a significant impact on seat belt wearing.

Current road safety education activities should be reviewed to see if seat belt wearing is given due prominence. Well researched campaigns should be undertaken to reinforce social norms of seat belt wearing while building support for increased enforcement and penalties. Technological developments can also have a significant impact on seat belt wearing and Euro NCAP and others should continue to encourage manufacturers to develop safety features which increase seat belt wearing and improve the effectiveness of seat belts.

This report has also established a need for both further research and improvements to data collection to better understand the issue of seat belt non-wearing. Police Forensic Collision Investigators should routinely review the Stats19 records of the collisions they investigate.

Furthermore, a covariate analysis of Stats19 data on seat belt non-use should be conducted.

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